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Fee-Based Genealogy

Every genealogist has a stash of nickels, dimes and quarters. You know what they're for: copies! Judy Rosella Edwards explores the practical side of being a working genealogist with a well-run business.


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Resource: PRO Talk
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Genealogists need to earn enough to cover all those little incidentals, like coffee to stay sharp at the library. Track your fees so you know ahead of time what to anticipate.

Genealogists keep their stash of coins handy because copies cost money. But the cost varies, so most of us carry at least some nickels and dimes, along with the more common quarter.

It seems like a simple little thing. But, it is time to work smarter. Keep track of your anticipated costs so you know ahead of time how much to anticipate charging – and how full your stash needs to be before you leave home.

Also, if you plan to resell data, you need to know how much money you spent copying the original, in addition to making an archive copy – and a copy for the client. If you don't charge anyone for the archive copy (the copy you keep, should anyone else want to buy it), then you have copied at a loss to your business.

Let's take a look at what copies mean, from a business perspective. A copy involves paper and a printing medium, such as ink or toner. Those are the costs covered by your quarter. Copying documents also involves something with which to store your copies. It might involve a paper-clip or two, a staple, a binder. Each of those items cost money.

A responsible businessperson does not take the attitude that a staple isn't worth charging for. It might only have cost you, maybe 1/3 of a cent. But it matters a lot when you are out of staples and you have 17 pages with no page numbers and you don't dare let them get out of order. Plus, of course, at some point, you paid for the stapler. If you're particular about staplers, like I am, I prefer to use my own rather than take my chances with the library's stapler that may not staple as crisply. After all, I want to present my client with a professional-appearing document. Plus, I don't care much for staples that prick my finger or snag other papers in my files.

When I make copies, I typically handwrite the source either on the copies or on a post-it I attach to them. That involves a pen or pencil and maybe the cost of a sticky note. I prefer using archive-quality pens and buy them in boxes of ten.

But, you could save money by using free pens and sticky notes from various vendors. Otherwise, you need to earn back the cost of both. Know how much the copies cost if you make additional copies elsewhere, or even on your own copy machine. If you make copies yourself, you can estimate they will cost a quarter at a library or research center.

The library at Eastern Illinois University charges a mere nickel for black-and-white copies and thirty cents for a color copy. Scanner printing is eight cents for monochrome and sixteen cents for color prints. Printing from the microform printers, when accessing vital records for Illinois, for example, cost ten cents.

If someone makes the copies for you at a courthouse, the price can range from free to $25.00, depending on what is being copied. A printed copy of a vital record can easily cost $25.00. There may even be postage costs, in addition to the fee.

Most places will take paper checks now, even genealogical societies. Do not anticipate many will accept debit or credit cards.

On the more sophisticated end, some university libraries use high-tech, cashless copying systems. Patrons buy a card for use in campus copying machines. Typically these cards are not refundable. You "use them or lose them." Buy the minimum size card you anticipate you will need. If you do have to purchase an electronic currency, keep track of what it is and what the balance is on it. You may have to check this while you are still on campus, since the cards are proprietary. And don't forget you have a card with a balance on it the next time you visit campus!

You may find on campuses that your money is no good in campus restaurants. You may have to purchase a campus dining card. Even if not required, you might get a discount if you buy a campus dining card rather than paying cash.

The college website may explain that. If not, contact the campus library ahead of time to learn how to pay for copies and food – and parking.

Speaking of parking, there may a special fee for researchers using the campus archives. The parking rules may also change during the summer, when fewer students are on campus. One university archive I have used sold special parking permits in a huge lot across the street from the archive during the summer: the rest of the time, I had to pay for metered parking every couple of hours or park off campus.

Typically you will be expected to feed the meter and be limited to probably only a couple of hours of parking time. Most college websites have information about campus parking. Before you leave home, find out where to park, what hours you can park there, and whether it is metered parking or whether you will need to allow time to stop by campus parking services to purchase a parking permit. Check the campus map to find out how far you will need to park from the library or archive, especially if you need to carry heavy notebooks or a notebook computer with you.

If you take your laptop, you can anticipate that many public libraries will offer free wireless Internet access. But you will likely need specific instructions on how to log onto the campus network. I recommend saving the instructions to your desktop as a PDF, rather than spending the money to print out the wireless access guide. Do keep in mind you will not be able to access that information until you are already connected. Otherwise, you will need to use your wireless Internet provider and pay any fees that might be associated.

A good technique is to keep a list of the charges for copying and parking at various facilities you use. The best place to keep this data is in an electronic file. I recommend using whatever system makes you happy. Keep a memo on your PDA or create a sophisticated relational database or just type up a simple text file that you can update as costs change.

Make it something easy to update and print. Then, keep track of the increases. Use this data to project the cost a year from now or maybe even five years from now, if you track the data consistently. Those costs are going to be passed on to you and then to your client. You need to know what they are.

Source Information: PRO Talk, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2009.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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